HENRI DEUTSCH DE LA MEURTHE was a French John D. Rockefeller, “the Oil King of Europe.” What’s more, Henri’s oil was second-generation, in more ways than one. And whereas Rockefeller’s eventual philanthropy benefited medicine, education, and scientific research, Deutsch’s philanthropy was focused on aviation. Staring today in Parts 1, 2, and 3, tidbits are offered on Henri Deutsch de la Meurthe, his role in pioneer aviation, and one of his notable commissions, the Blériot Limousine.
A Variety of Oils. As noted in Wikipedia, in 1845, a year before Henri’s birth, his father Alexander “founded a company for processing and marketing vegetable oils in La Villette, then an independent commune of Paris. With the discovery of petroleum oil in Pennsylvania in 1859, Deutsch began to study and develop the use of petroleum oils in France.”
An Enhancement of Name. “In 1877,” Wikipedia continues, “Deutsch brought his two sons, Henri and Emile, into the family business, which bought a refinery in Rouen in 1881 and another in St. Loubès in Gironde in 1883. In 1889, in association with the Rothschild brothers, oil refining began in Spain. At this time, Alexander added the ‘de la Meurthe’ to the family name.”
An Avid Promoter. Henri recognized that internal-combustion engines ran on petroleum, and he promoted both automobiles as well as aeroplanes. He co-founded the Aéro-Club in 1898; other founding members included Jules Verne and his wife, André Michelin, Albert de Dion, and Alberto Santos-Dumont. In 1909, the organization’s name was changed to Aéro-Club de France. Louis Blériot, by the way, had license no. 1.
The Wright Deals—One Almost. In 1906, Deutsch de la Meurthe formed a partnership with Wilber Wright and the Wright’s European agent Hart O. Berg. A proposal was made to supply Wright aircraft to the French government, but the deal never materialized.
Another Deutsch/Wright effort was more successful: Deutsch worked with French engineer/industrialist/politician Lazare Weiller in organizing the 1908 Wright Demonstration at Le Mans.
The Aéro Institute. In 1909, Deutsch provided the University of Paris a half-million francs plus an annual stipend of 15,000 francs to establish the Institute Aérotechnique at Saint-Cyr-l’École. This organization exists today as part of the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers.
The Deutsch Prize for Santos-Dumont. In 1900, Henri offered the Deutsch Prize of 100,000 francs to the first machine capable of flying from the Parc Saint Cloud to the Eiffel Tower and back in less than 30 minutes.
On August 8, 1901, Alberto Santos-Dumont attempted it with his powered balloon. The craft lost hydrogen, though, and became tangled in the Trocadero Hotel. Santos-Dumont had to be rescued by the fire brigade.
Santos-Dumont tried yet again on October 19, 1901, with a new craft. After rounding the Eiffel Tower in only nine minutes, he encountered trouble that had him crawling along the open framework to the engine. He fixed it, continued, and crossed the finish line in 29 minutes, 30 seconds.
The judges got shirty about a mooring-line delay, but Deutsch felt Santos-Dumont had won. It was the Deutsch Prize, after all; and in an example of sportsmanship, Santos-Dumont gave half the prize to his crew and donated the rest to the Paris poor.
Henri had a hand in other competitions: the Deutsch-Archdeacon Prize, 50,000 francs to the first person flying a heavier-than-air craft in a one-kilometer circle; and the Coupe Deutsch de la Meurthe, a speed event with 20,000-franc first prize, ran intermittently between 1912 and 1936.
Coming in Parts 2 and 3, tomorrow and following, is Henri commissioning a fascinating aeroplane befitting the Deutsch de la Meurthe heritage: the Blériot Limousine.